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Happiness and the Coronavirus

“How do you expect me to be happy when the global economy is collapsing, there’s some mysterious virus out there waiting for me, and I’m quarantined with my family in close quarters for the foreseeable future?”

A very valid question.  How the world has changed in the last few days.

It’s interesting how a global pandemic causes one to appreciate the simple things in life.  Filling out a March Madness bracket, going to see your favorite band in concert, actually attending school.  All of those activities disappeared in the blink of an eye over the last week.

Gratitude is an important practice here.  Once things “get back to normal,” be sure to not take for granted the opportunity to go to church, see a movie, or give a group hug to 100 people.  

Now, if you and your family and friends are healthy, give thanks. If you have a safe place to call home and are not unreasonably worried about paying next month’s rent or mortgage payment, give thanks.  If you have the opportunity to take an unprecedented pause from the chaos and busyness of everyday life, give thanks. Let us be grateful for this moment in time.

Kodi Lee is a Butterfly, Not a Caterpillar

If you don’t follow America’s Got Talent and you’ve never heard of Kodi Lee, stop reading this and watch this clip from his first appearance on AGT:

Spoiler alert, for those of you too lazy to watch the video:  Kodi Lee is blind and autistic. He walks on the stage escorted by his mother, who is confident and articulate in the spotlight even though her son seemingly lacks those attributes.

The judges pepper Kodi and his mom with questions.  Simon is more skeptical than usual. I knew nothing of his story the first time I saw his audition and found myself wondering what talent Kodi was going to share with the world.

Then he sets his walking stick aside and steps behind a Steinway grand piano.  After an awkward silence, he begins to tickle the ivories and let his unbelievable, otherwordly voice loose.

To say I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears would be an understatement.  Kodi sounds incredible. He is a natural on the piano, a superstar singing on a stage with millions of people watching him.  A minute earlier he had been a blind, autistic boy unsure of himself. It’s as if a kindergartener showed up on an NBA court and started throwing down windmill dunks.  

How often do we prematurely judge others and conclude that they have “no talent” or are “hopeless?”  How often do we criticize ourselves for the same offense? We could see what Kodi Lee appeared to be, but you can’t see someone’s heart, someone’s soul, or someone’s passion by simply by looking at him.

Kodi Lee reminded me to never judge anyone’s potential by how he looks.  We need to have a “growth mindset” so that when we meet other people, we see them as the best version of themselves and not what they appear to be at the moment.  Otherwise we’d look at a caterpillar wriggling across the ground and view it as another grubby insect, not as the beautiful butterfly it will one day become.

The Practice of Happiness

The Declaration of Independence proclaims that the “pursuit of happiness” is an “unalienable right.”  This means if aliens invade the Earth and start zapping everyone with laser guns, they won’t be able to exterminate our ability to pursue happiness.  This may sound encouraging to some (except for the alien invasion part), but we’ve got it all wrong when it comes to seeking happiness.

Many of us spend our entire lives chasing the elusive feeling of being happy.  We act as if we are zig-zagging across a field, tightly clutching butterfly nets as we attempt to snag a flying insect.  We tell ourselves that once we finally capture one of these colorful creatures, we will experience true bliss and live happily ever after. 

Except no one warned us the average lifespan of a butterfly is two weeks.  Soon we’re running in circles again in the pursuit of these creatures, stuck in an endless loop of seeking external circumstances in our quest for happiness.

As great a wordsmith as Mr. Jefferson was, he should have used another word in place of “pursuit” in the second sentence of his revolutionary document.  What the 33-year-old intended to say was that pursuing happiness is not a chase, it is a vocation. More exactly, it is a “practice.”

Former Harvard Professor Arthur Schlesinger argued in a 1964 essay titled “The Lost Meaning of ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’” that the “historic manifesto proclaimed the practicing rather than the quest of happiness as a basic right.”  Doctors practice medicine. Lawyers practice law.  People should practice happiness as if it were their chosen occupation or pastime.  

This means we should “practice” our “practice,” habitually performing the activities that reinforce our happiness.  What exactly are those activities and routines that lead to us living our best lives? Drop your butterfly nets, watch out for aliens, and stay tuned to find out.